Recaredo Veredas | from:Spanish

My Father’s Ties

Translated by : Kit Maude

The tie is doomed, just as the larger Asian elephant is doomed. 

Manuel Vilas

 

8 January 2018

I can’t stand them. I’d burn them in a dirty flame, a diesel flame, no sandalwood or ceremony necessary. Their prints are ridiculous. They combine chickens and unicorns, vines and roses, diamonds and golf clubs. Their linings are always garish: sapphire blue, duckling yellow, pumpkin orange… they represent an era, the glorious 70s and 80s in Spain when the best restaurants were full of smoke, wine, steaks and laughter. My father’s ties are all hugs, jokes, camaraderie and whisky. The male bonding that was so crucial to sealing business deals. Of course, they’re made of Italian silk, stitched at the finest workshops Milan had to offer. Their images make a filigree, infinite symmetries worthy of Escher, sewn by artists well aware of the fine line between the original and the ridiculous. Plain blue ties, the kind I wear, are for men with ice in their souls. Only an idiot like me would seek to broadcast their suffering.   

My father loves light and, especially, the spotlight: he likes to run meetings, organize dinners and solve other people’s problems. The latter most of all. Whether you want him to or not, he’ll get you the best radiotherapy for lung cancer, or find your bags for you even if you lost them in New York. In a tornado. And then, of course, he’ll expect your eternal gratitude. A man like that would only ever choose to wear ties that stand out like a castle made exclusively of fireworks. When he turned eighty, he gave up wearing them and now heads to the office in checked shirts and a Barbour jacket, as though he were going duck hunting. So he’s started giving them to me. As with everything he does, he does so in a methodical, orderly fashion: every Monday morning at eight he leaves two on my desk, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. In all, there are two hundred and forty-four, which he accumulated over dozens of Christmases, birthdays and board meetings. Sometimes I imagine their hundreds of drawings and colours stretched out on the floor in an eye-watering mosaic worthy of a museum of horrors.     

I can’t wear them. Going to the office in a yellow tie would be like coming in in a tracksuit. An old, grey, baggy tracksuit, I mean. A junkie’s tracksuit, not those skin-tight Nike ones that it’s now apparently perfectly acceptable to wear to breakfast at the Ritz. Of course, an alpha male like him, elderly as he is, can’t help but criticize my cowardice, which he associates with my lack of enterprise.

He’s the founder of our legal firm and its honorary president. A self-made man who rose out of the ashes of the post-war period. I don’t know if he ever went hungry, or if his father wore a tie. Although I’ve been running the business for over ten years now, I’ve never dared to ask for his office. I’m still in my broom cupboard, sharing it with piles of paper that reach right to the ceiling. Meetings are held in the room adjacent to his office, underneath photos of him with two kings, five presidents and the great Alfredo Di Stefano. They aren’t just decorative: clients trust lawyers with genuine pedigree. So far, we’ve managed to get through the economic crisis and keep our clients in the face of savage competition. On average, I work about twelve hours a day. My eyesight is shot and, beyond the odd Christmas card, I’ve lost all my friends but of course, my father takes the credit for our healthy balance sheet.  

I’ve decided to hide the ties from my wife. They’re piled up at the back of my wardrobe, Italian silk be damned. I’m not brave enough to just throw them away. If they were cotton I would have but how could I get rid of yards and yards of soft, vintage Italian silk? The ties aren’t just occupying space in my wardrobe, they’ve taken possession of my subconscious as well. I won’t countenance hanging them around my neck, but still, they cause me continuous anxiety in my chest, stomach and lungs already worn thin by tobacco.

 

12 January 2018

My father didn’t attack immediately, he just observed, waiting for the right moment to pounce, like a feral cat. Today, Friday, at 12 noon, a moment calculated to create a maximum amount of guilt over the weekend, he came into my work space, grabbed my blue tie and, in front of all the employees, asked:   

“What? Are you ashamed of your father?”

“No, I’m very proud of you. Why do you ask, dad?”

“No reason, son, none at all. I’ll give my ties to someone who’ll appreciate them, then.”

“It’s just habit, I always wear these. I love yours. They’re very original.”

“Don’t lie to me. You’ve always been a pansy. You’re almost fifty and you couldn’t sell a sandwich to a starving man.”

 

17 January 2018

As one of my mottos in life has always been to avoid conflict, to try to understand others, I decided to take a couple to the office and put them on before I go in. A couple of the more discreet specimens: yellow polka dots on a blue background and some innocuous steam engines over orange stripes. But this noble intention only served to highlight my lack of character. I got so nervous that I didn’t even think to hide in the bathroom. Right in front of my employees I undid my plain blue tie and put on my father’s one, without doing up my top button or straightening my shirt. It just dangled, like a clown tie. The first day, he just laughed. Today, he called me into his office and, looking me in the eye, said:

“If you don’t like my ties, don’t wear them and accept the consequences, but don’t play me for a fool.”

Meanwhile, my anxiety coursed through my body at the usual rate, spilling out of my mouth and into my lungs until it came to settle in my stomach. I left the office in silence, the black smoke puffing out of the steam engines’ smokestacks ruining their child-like beauty.

18 January 2018

I arrived at midday and gave a couple of ties to old man Tomás, a horrible lawyer who takes naps in the afternoon and is only good for scraping and bowing to clients whose contempt for him grows every day. At least, thank God, he’s stopped kissing women’s hands. I know that, as usual, it’ll do no good. One of the causes of my plight is that I always strive to keep regular habits, not realizing that good intentions mean nothing when faced with the power of a father of biblical proportions.    

I’ve just come to a decision. I don’t know if it’s about the past or the future. We always think that we’re making progress; we need to just to go on living. We need to construct an epic about ourselves, to have faith in our advances, even if we’re just stumbling around a void. That step has been to leave the house without a tie – it’s the modern way, I tell my wife and son; in Silicon Valley only squares wear ties – hide one of them in a computer case and put it on in the lift, thus avoiding the embarrassment of walking through my neighbourhood in a tie with a blue daisy print. The employees murmured and giggled the first few days. Or maybe they didn’t, I’ve always been a little paranoid. Probably, they didn’t even look at me. They don’t normally: their boss is the same man he’s always been. They don’t respect me because I pay them at the end of every month. They respect me because I’m his son. Blood of his blood, even if it is more watered down, not quite so scarlet. They even look for his approval when I ask them to do overtime.  

 

5 March 2018

One of the firm’s businesses is the administration of building organizations. Today I went to a meeting that went on until two in the morning. Do you know what it’s like to listen to ten neighbours screaming at each other for eight hours, without pause, unburdening themselves of all the anger they’ve built up with the family, or at work or just because they’re growing old? You don’t, dear readers. Even if you think you might be able to imagine it, you don’t know the true horror. You think that psychopaths are the murderers you see on Netflix, but that’s not it. The real psychopaths are presidents of building associations. My father could smile all the way through them: he knew humanity better than me. He knew that human beings aren’t governed by reason but emotion: leaks aren’t what’s important; it’s the need for compassion and understanding. That’s what his colourful ties and eternal sympathy conveyed. Perfectly kept accounts don’t demonstrate love as well as a sensitively-shared handkerchief swarming with paramecia. I stepped into the cool night, dog tired. I just wanted to get back to bed. I went straight back home, forgetting to take off my tie. This was the first my wife knew of it. My father had been supplying them to me in secret, like a drug dealer.     

“What a lovely tie,” she said from the bed, half asleep. She turned on the lamp on the bedside table, got up and started to ask about the meeting; she even made me a mug of warm milk and honey, so I decided to share my secret and showed her the back of my wardrobe, which was full of bright, dust-repellent colours.

“They’re beautiful, works of art. Why did you hide them back there?” she asked as she smoothed them out on the bed. “We’ll iron them tomorrow.”

“Please don’t start. You know that my father and I have different styles…”

“You need to brighten up your life. Wear them: anyone who renounces their father, renounces themselves, she said quietly, looking me in the eyes. “Also, your father is a much better salesman than you. Maybe you’ll learn, honey. It’s about time you took some responsibility and let him enjoy his grandchildren.”

I put on my pyjamas, took a sleeping pill and slept for two, nightmare-strewn hours. The next day, I didn’t go to work. I called my father and told him, with butterflies in the pit of my stomach, that I was sick. I spent the day walking up and down the Gran Via with my head down and my hands in the pockets of my trench coat. There was only one thing on my mind: dad, dad, dad, dad. At five in the afternoon, I went into the Museo del Jamón where I ordered a sandwich and a lemon shandy. I looked at my wrinkled, forty-seven-year-old face in the greasy mirror. I couldn’t go on like this. Either I allowed him in or I quit the firm and maybe went to a Buddhist temple in Nepal: at almost fifty years of age, I couldn’t risk poverty. Suddenly an answer came to me like a lightning bolt from heaven: I am my father, I can’t help that, fighting it made no sense. I am my father, I am my father, I said to myself as I went down the stairs to the metro station, took out my metro card and waited for the train. In the carriage, I decided that I’d wear them every day. Even the yellow one with the blue lilies, the kind that a French prince high on cocaine might wear. You can’t fight your genes.

 

12 March 2018     

It was difficult at first, but everything gets easier with time. My father pretended not to notice initially but when he saw that it was sticking he came into my office and pointed at my tie with the biggest smile I’d ever seen on his face: 

“Lovely, one of my favourites.”

He invited me to lunch with D. Fermín, an aristocrat who owns hunting lodges where partridges are slaughtered with the best shotguns in Spain. Until that moment, he saw me as a kind of manager, lacking the soul one needs to take real decisions. He didn’t say anything about the beautiful purple tie with Christmas baubles I was wearing, even though it was Spring. But he did let me talk, and allowed Fermín to ask me how the firm was doing. Afterwards, he said that I could go to the next lunch on my own. That marked the beginning of the shift. He even started coming into the office less often. He signed up to a painting class and the day before yesterday told me that his office had got too big for him, that he was thinking of making a change. My entire life has improved: I’ve started going back to the gym, my wife fondles me every morning and my son tells me that he loves me every night. Of course, I’m still wearing the ties. Every morning, as I brush my teeth, I repeat the mantra: I am my father and there’s nothing I can do about it. Before they become aware of their powers, superheroes usually go through a period of suffering, a time of resentment, slings and arrows. For me, that period lasted forty-seven years. I’m the first superhero with grey on their temples.   

My ties, which are either plain or have sober geometric patterns, are piled up, wrinkled, at the back of the wardrobe. No-one asks about them. One day the maid ironed them and hung them up next to the ones belonging to my father but I shoved them back to the back of the wardrobe. I’d like to give them to my son, but I want him to have my father’s. Even in a post-human world run by robots in eternal polluted twilight, those who accept their past are bound to triumph. 

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